This summer, more than ever, I realized how important Jewish summer camping is. Over 80,000 campers and counsellors attended Jewish overnight camps this past summer, which means that over 80,000 Jewish youth lived the events that were transpiring in Israel.
I saw this first hand. On the day that I visited URJ Camp George, the campers were organized in discussion groups. The topic of many of the conversations was the murder of the three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar and the murder of the Palestinian boy from Shuafat. The students knew about the events because it was personal. There were Israeli counsellors in camp and Israeli campers. They were affected by the murders, and they were affected by the war.
I visited Camp Ramah on the same day. There, too, the campers experienced the gamut of this summer’s emotions. Their concern about the three Israeli boys grew to grief when they learned of their deaths. Their grief turned to solidarity when they heard about the rockets that were being shot into Israel. They felt the fear that Israelis felt when the IDF discovered the tunnels that Hamas dug to infiltrate Israel and murder Israelis. They were connected to Israel, and it was personal. With Israelis in camp, the events were very real.
Israel was the topic of conversation not just at overnight camps but at Jewish day camps too. After I had visited Moshava Ba’ir, the Bnei Akiva day camp in the city, I stayed connected with the camp and saw that nearly every week they were doing something for soldiers in Israel. They wrote notes to soldiers and sent care packages. The soldiers sent back a selfie so that the campers could see the difference they were making. Little children and big counsellors followed the events in Israel each according to his or her level of maturity.
I have headed up Jewish day schools for 15 years. It is hard to find a stronger proponent of Jewish day schools than me. Yet, I have also always promoted Jewish summer camping. At camp, kids experience things they simply don’t experience at school. This is true whether they attend as campers or as staff members. They learn things that they don’t learn at school. In an immersive environment like a Jewish camp, students live and experience Judaism in a way they simply cannot at a Jewish day school. Jewish camps complement the learning that takes place at a day school. That’s why children need both–camp and school.
This summer I realized there’s another reason why we need to encourage children to attend Jewish camps–whether young children as campers or TanenbaumCHAT students who may have never attended previously and are now counsellor age. A Jewish summer camp makes sure that children don’t miss out on summer events that impact the Jewish community. In this case, thanks to the Jewish camping movement, over 80,000 campers at Jewish overnight camps and thousands at Jewish day camps walked this summer’s journey with Israel. These children are better for it. So is the Jewish people and so is Israel.